I’m going to warn my faithful two or three readers right out of the gate: this is going to be odd. Movie 43 has been almost universally panned as one of the worst films of all time. Respected critic Richard Roeper called it “the Citizen Kane of awful,” while other critics piled on ferociously. The attacks were relentless and this 2013 comedy landed with a colossal thud.
The caveat of Movie 43 is that it stacks up pile after pile of A-list stars and has them doing raunchy, idiotic, ridiculous things. The entire picture feels like a big taunt, a messy gathering of “dare you to watch any more of this shit” clips and shorts designed for the YouTube set. The odd part is that it’s not that bad.
Talking about the plot of Movie 43 in linear fashion is stupid. Depending on where you’re from, you’ll get a different framing story. The version I saw features a group of teenagers seeking out a supposedly fictional film on the Internet, while another version features Dennis Quaid as an insane screenwriter trying to pitch a script to an executive played by Greg Kinnear. Either story will do.
The first “film” finds Beth (Kate Winslet) going on a blind date with Davis (Hugh Jackman), a popular bachelor with a penchant for scarves. The date is going well until they arrive at the restaurant and Davis removes his scarf to reveal a rather ballsy surprise. The focal point of this Peter Farrelly-directed bit is Winslet’s reactions to Jackman’s somewhat hairy addition.
The second involves Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts as parents of a homeschooled boy (Jeremy Allen White). They explain their approach to their increasingly alarmed guests, telling them that they plan to recreate all the necessary accoutrements of high school life. This includes bullying and even a first encounter with a girl, which is where this Will Graham-helmed tale goes off the rails.
From Steve Carr’s skit featuring Anna Faris looking for an extra load of romance to a later Farrelly sketch that finds Halle Berry on a date with Stephen Merchant, Movie 43 hops around through a series of stories to varying results. Some moments are remarkably funny and surprisingly clever, including Winslet’s Twilight Zone-ish take as the only person to notice Jackman’s interesting accessories.
It is important to think of Movie 43 in terms of its goal. Can a film that desires tastelessness be sensibly condemned for meeting its objective? The proposal of Halle Berry making guacamole with a terrifyingly huge and clearly fake breast may raise hackles, but that’s the bloody point in an ever-accelerating game of truth or dare.
Similarly, the notion of Richard Gere playing a Steve Jobs type incapable of understanding the irrationality and hazard of a particular part of his iBabe product would, under other circumstances, be greeted as rich satire. In this case, the Steven Brill-directed sequence is dismissed. The same fate awaits most of this production.
One of the film’s funniest sequences is the Elizabeth Banks-directed bit. Nathan (Jimmy Bennett) and Amanda (Chloë Grace Moretz) are on a date when the young girl gets her first period. Nathan and his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) veer into oblivious hysterics. Nathan even calls 911, clearly distressed. The exaggerated reactions of the males are hysterical and the ironic punch-line is a winner.
Movie 43 took years to make and the horde of directors and writers worked around the schedules of the horde of actors. It was not screened for critics and many involved kind of disowned the project for a number of reasons. There may be something to that, but there’s also something to how funny and stunningly shrewd this film can actually be.
The assembly of the sketches does create a sort of disconnect and nothing about this picture is particularly ground-breaking, but it’s also very entertaining. There are some good laughs and the gross-out humour is more than par for the course, it’s the goddamn mission statement.